We’re WHAT, Now?

As I’ve said here before, I did my first ancestral DNA test last year.

The results have been posted up on the company’s Web site – via my own member page – for over 9 months. Based on the speculative nature of the tests, I have over 400 genetic relatives.

But going through the list of “matches”, my fellow members belong to all sorts of haplogroups – a number of them aren’t even close to mine. Some of them were able to do the male lineage – or Y-DNA – tests, so their genetic pictures are a bit more complete than mine.

One would like to hope to stumble across someone who could realistically be a family member. But when the closest “relative” shares less than 0.5 percent on one segment of a teeny, tiny shred of DNA, it’s hard not to be skeptical.

Well, for some people.

Twelve days ago, I got an email from someone on the Web site, asking to share ancestral genetic information. She was American, didn’t have a photo, and didn’t have any ancestral surnames that seemed to match mine. I couldn’t even see which haplogroup she belonged to.

I did think about not accepting the invitation. But I thought, what the hell. Maybe there’s more information on her profile that I can’t see without accepting the invitation.

So I accepted.

The next day, I received a message. It began:

“I am very happy to know that I am sharing this life with a new found cousin …

Wait.

What?

I read it a second time, along with the rest of the message, which instructed me to contact the woman’s brother – it seems that he was the one who managed the account on the Web site, and that I could get in touch with him for more information.

I sent a friendly, but somewhat neutral email in response, and promptly emailed the brother. I explained that his sister emailed me, that I was still fairly new to genealogy and DNA tests (which is true, in that I’m no expert in this at all, other than paying money to take them), that my family lineage was Jamaican, and that I was curious to see how I was related to his family.

At the very least, I figured that perhaps he’d take a look at my profile on the ancestral DNA account and see that we weren’t really all that related.

He wrote back a lengthy response. He talked about his own foray into genealogy and genetic testing (he’s a novice like me). And I suppose, given how I had written my original email, he’d assumed that I was starting from scratch — he then explained how hard it is to search for African-American ancestors because of records, that one had to be patient, etc. And then he asked me for ancestors’ names and dates to start the search.

Admittedly, I read the email and let out a deep sigh.

I don’t begrudge the guy or his sister for trying to connect the dots in their family tree – it’s exactly what I’ve tried to do, what many others are doing as I write this. And what he said about finding records for ancestors lost to time is true, and it’s no easy task.

But I read this email and thought, there is no way on this Earth that there are any links between his family and mine – UNLESS, there is some unnamed, unidentified ancestor who was either taken from Jamaica to the U.S., or vice-versa. The links would have to be extremely distant.

Just to be sure, I went back to the DNA testing Web site to see if this woman and I were in fact from the same haplogroup.

How do I explain this? We come from the same tree limb, but we sit on two completely different branches. Or maybe, we’re from different twigs sprouted from different branches of the same limb. Something like that. Either way, it doesn’t completely add up for me, so my skepticism is deep.

As of last week, the woman’s brother said he’d start looking into ye olde family research at the beginning of April.

This is either going to confirm what I already knew. Or this is going to get  … messy.

Another Test, Another Result

Apologies (once again) for the silence on my end. It was a very busy March, including a hectic work schedule that really didn’t leave me with enough time or motivation to write. But I’m back for the time being.

On the family research front, it’s pretty much at a standstill. My aunt went home to Jamaica in the new year, but she’s been dealing with personal stuff. One of my cousins went home last week for a visit. She’s currently still there, and I’m hoping she might have time to do what her mother hasn’t. I’m keeping my expectations low at this point.

Meanwhile, I decided to do an ancestral DNA test with another company to see if (a) I could get any more detailed results in terms of where part of my lineage may have come from, and (b) see if I would end up with the same result in terms of which maternal haplogroup I belong to.

There was a holiday special, so I bought an autosomal DNA test and a mitrochondrial DNA test (there’s a similar test for male family members, which traces lineage through the Y-chromosome).

Unlike the previous test – which involved spitting into a vial – for this one, I had to scrape the insides of my cheeks with a swab.

The autosomal test was ready in about four to five weeks. It was a longer wait for the mitochondrial DNA (or mtDNA) test results – somewhere around seven to eight weeks.

I wish I could say that the results were worth the wait. It was a bit underwhelming and not that easy to understand.

The one thing I learned from my mtDNA results: My haplogroup matches the results from the previous mtDNA test I did – with one exception.

Attached to the haplogroup designation was a second set of letters and numbers. Did this allude to a specific region or subgroup?

It took me a couple of tries at digging for similar questions on the forum boards. From what I understand, it might be some sort of mutation in my DNA that doesn’t precisely match the sequence for the specific haplogroup I belong to.

Perhaps this means that technically, I don’t belong to the haplogroup, but it’s the closest designation for my maternal DNA? (Amateur genetic genealogists, feel free to correct me if I’m completely wrong.)

When I checked my genetic matches, there were more than half a dozen other people who had this same designation/mutation as me. In fact, one of those matches (who lives in Barbados) contacted me a mere two hours after my test results were emailed to me. He asked me about the haplogroup we belonged to and if I understood what it meant. Unfortunately I barely understood my results at the time and couldn’t tell him a thing. (I’ve since emailed him about our shared mutation, but I haven’t heard back from him.)

As for my ancestral DNA test, I checked the “origins” map, which put me at 89 per cent African and 10 per cent European. That part was consistent with the other test. The head-scratcher is the European portion of my lineage, which the test results place in … Norway. There was a blurb about how members of that particular cluster are kin to other Europeans of the north. Maybe it’s plausible. But – as with all these tests – certain things you have to take with a grain of salt.

The only thing I’m really disappointed with is the lack of clear explanation of what my results really mean. Unless I’m a novice member of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, all the numbers and letters in my DNA don’t exactly make me salivate with excitement. Perhaps it’ll become a bit clearer with time and more internet research.

It was worth a shot.